Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The PT Test: 5 ways to Improve Your 1.5-Mile Run Time

(This post was updated on 9 June 2014.)

The 1.5-mile run represents more than half of the points you can earn for the PT test. This means that for many of you, most of your efforts will be put towards improving your run times.

But how fast should you try to run?

Maxing out your run certainly does wonders for the ego, but this pace is usually too much for most non-athletes or running enthusiasts. A more achievable goal is to get enough points to earn you more than 90 points on the PT test. So this begs the question: How much is enough?

Running Analysis
I took a look at the points tables for both male and female run times up to age 49. Although more points are awarded for slower times as you get older, there were two distinct point groups for all tables. After making it to a passing run time you get about 40 points. The next two minutes generally yield the most additional points (averaging 13.7 points for men and 11.93 for women), while the last two minutes yield the least additional (averaging 4.9 points for men and 4.47 for women). See the two tables below.
I know that these tables can be a little confusing at first glance. Essentially, they show that it is generally easy to get about 90% of the total points awarded for the run by aiming for 11-12 minute 1.5-mile run for men and 13-15 minutes for women (what time specifically depends on your age). This is what I mean by "most points acquired."

However, you have to reduce your run time by another two minutes to get those last remaining 5 points for a perfect run. For me, that's a lot of effort for a measly 5 points.

The important takeaway from this analysis is that if you can get max points for the other components (which is easy to do when you use my 42-day program), then you can easily get more than 90 points on your PT test with a moderately fast run time.

(If you want to see the point graphs I created, click on the following links: Men Under 30, Men 30-39, Men 40-49, Women Under 30, Women 30-39, Women 40-50.)

Strategies for a Successful Run
In my experience, there are generally five ways that you can potentially make big improvements in your run time with relatively little training.

Strategy #1: Use Natural Running Training
In my struggles with improving my run times, I have found relearning my natural running form the most helpful. A lot of this training requires barefoot running on grass or a treadmill.

Once I got my natural running form back, I found that I could sustain a faster pace and experienced fewer injuries. It also made running less of a chore (although I still don't like running).

For more information, check out my post on natural running training.

Strategy #2: Improve Your Running Efficiency
When I first started running for the PT test many eons ago, my run time was over 13 minutes. And despite that slow pace, my running efficiency was so terrible that I was almost completely destroyed when I crossed the finish line. That's because my poor running habits forced my muscles to do way too much work. But, as I improved my running efficiency, I can now run low 11s while still feeling like I have some gas left in the tank.

There are many different things that you can do to improve your running efficiency. If you are curious, check out my posts on running cadence, stride, acceleration, foot strike, and minimalist shoes.  

Strategy #3: Just Run
There is one simple truth: If you want to get better at running, then you need to run. Of course, your running form and efficiency should be squared away first. But once they are, you should generally run easy for 2-3 miles three times a week and run fast (that is, at your PT test pace) just once a week.

The easy runs help you practice your running form, build your aerobic base, and strengthen your muscles and tendons. The test-pace run will get you adapted to sustaining your PT test pace.

Strategy #4: Cross Train
To run faster, you have to develop the ability to efficiently use oxygen and expel carbon dioxide (and other forms of metabolic waste). Generally, simply running more will help you do this, but sometimes other cardio exercises can also be used to help train your body to more efficiently use air. Ultimately, these cross training exercises can help you sustain a faster running pace, as well as reduce and rehabilitate injuries.

Personally, I like to add one cross training cardio session a week (usually cycling, rowing, or swimming). Another route is to enjoy one or two cardio workouts from exercise programs like P90X or Insanity.

Strategy #5: Improve Your Diet
Eliminating wheat (and other gluten grains) and soy--as well as reducing your intake of refined sweeteners, margarine, pasteurized dairy, and high omega-6 oils--can help your body operate more effectively. These foods can interfere with nutrient absorption (1) and/or metabolic rate, (2) both of which can slow you down.

Safe carbohydrates (e.g., potatoes, rice, root vegetables), which are a relatively non-toxic source of carbohydrates, are another option. When you exercise at a high intensity, you need to eat plenty of carb fuel to prevent your body from running out of stored sugar. (3) I have created the chart below to help you figure out how many carbs per day you should be eating.

Your selected activity level (bottom line) will correlate with the percentage of your total daily calories you should be consuming as carbohydrates (vertical line).

1. Gregory, Vanessa. Winning Without Wheat. MensJournal.com. [Online] February 18, 2010. [Cited: November 26, 2011.] http://www.mensjournal.com/winning-without-wheat.
2. Daniel, Kaayla T. The Whole Soy Story. Washington, D.C. : NewTrends Publishing, Inc., 2005.
3. Culpo, Anthony. The Fat Loss Bible. s.l. : Self Published, 2011.


  1. What is your opinion on setting a run time you would like to accomplish and breaking it down to lap times or even a set meter distance time such as 100 meters. Exercise at that pace for multiple sets? I.E. 9 min - 1.5 mile would be 90 sec ea lap, 22.5 sec ea 100 meters. Run at the pace for the longest distance I can maintain it, rest, then repeat for multiple sets, working your way up to the total distance wanting to complete. This can act as the speed portion of your training and the 2nd run day of the week can be for endurance, running without rest for double the desired distance, working toward the pace set. I.E. 9 min - 1.5 mile = 18 min - 3 mile.

  2. Constantly pushing a faster pace is a solid plan. However, I don't know how well 100-meter sprints alone will translate into a faster 1.5-mile run, given its short distance. For instance, I can run the 100-meter in about 12 seconds, but I'm stuck in the 11's for the 1.5-mile run. I just start running out of gas at the 1-mile mark, and that takes more distance to fix.

    I think that sprints (especially Tabata sprints) will help develop leg strength and train your body to use energy and oxygen more efficiently. To improve the longer 1.5-mile run, I believe that an improved diet, minimalist running shoes, and just trying to run faster every week can accelerate this process, especially within a 42-day period.